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Down to Earth Sociology by James M. Henslin

Down to Earth Sociology by James M. Henslin

Author:James M. Henslin
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Free Press


The Social Organization of Professional Murder

There are two types of professional murderers: the organized and the independent. The killer who belongs to an organized syndicate does not usually get paid on a contract basis, and performs his job out of loyalty and obedience to the organization (Maas, 1968:81). The independent professional killer is a freelance agent who hires himself out for a fee (Pete). It is the career organization of the second type of killer that will be discussed.

The organized killer can mitigate his behavior through an “appeal to higher loyalties” (Sykes and Matza, 1957). He also can view his victim as an enemy of the group and then choose from a variety of techniques available for neutralizing an offense against an enemy (see, for example, Hirschi, 1969; Rogers and Buffalo, 1974). But the independent professional murderer lacks most of these defenses. Nevertheless, built into his role are certain structural features that help him avoid deviance ascription. These features include:

(1) Contract. A contract is an unwritten agreement to provide a sum of money to a second party who agrees, in return, to commit a designated murder (Joey, 1974:9). It is most often arranged over the phone, between people who have never had personal contact. And the victim, or “hit,” is usually unknown to the killer (Gage, 1972:57; Joey, 1974:61–62). This arrangement is meant to protect both parties from the law. But it also helps the killer “deny the victim” (Sykes and Matza, 1957) by keeping him relatively anonymous.

In arranging the contract, the hired killer will try to find out the difficulty of the hit and how much the customer wants the killing done. According to Pete, these considerations determine his price. He does not ask about the motive for the killing, treating it as none of his concern. Now knowing the motive may hamper the killer from morally justifying his behavior, but it also enables him to further deny the victim by maintaining his distance and reserve. Finally, the contract is backed up by a further understanding.

Like this guy who left here (prison) last summer, he was out two months before he got killed. Made a mistake somewhere. The way I heard it, he didn’t finish filling a contract [Pete].

If the killer fails to live up to his part of the bargain, the penalties could be extreme (Gage, 1972:53; Joey, 1974:9). This has the ironic effect that after the contract is arranged, the killer can somewhat “deny responsibility” (Sykes and Matza, 1957), by pleading self-defense.

(2) Reputation and Money. Reputation is especially important in an area where killers are unknown to their customers, and where the less written, the better (Joey, 1974:58). Reputation, in turn, reflects how much money the hit man has commanded in the past.

And that was the first time that I ever got 30 grand … it’s based on his reputation…. Yeah, how good he really is. To be so-so, you get so-so money. If you’re good, you get good money [Pete].

Pete, who could not recall the exact



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